By Amy Crawford, Sun Staff Writer May 9, 2017 Updated 5 hrs ago
Attorney Tim Hogan outlined what the Crane School District can expect in the upcoming legal battle with the state over capital funding at the district’s regular meeting Tuesday evening.
The Crane board joined the lawsuit several years ago, though this is not the first time the district has taken the state to task for underfunding education, Hogan said.
Hogan, who is the executive director for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, noted Crane’s role the first time he filed a capital funding lawsuit against the state back in 1991, which eventually resulted in Arizona’s Students FIRST law in 1998. Crane also sued the state in 2001 and in 2007, according to SchoolFunding.info, over various issues related to funding.
“The principal claim is the Legislature is not maintaining a general and uniform public school system as required by the constitution,” Hogan told the board, instead continuing to inadequately fund the School Facilities Board, which according to its annual 2016 report, funded just two new schools in 2016 (though it doled out $28.9 million for renewal projects).
Crane is not alleging that its facilities don’t meet the minimum state standards, said Hogan, who was accompanied by Josh Bendor of the Phoenix firm Osborn Maledon, but that local taxpayers have footed the bill (through bond sales) for facility repairs and replacements for which the state should have paid.
The state’s facilities, transportation and technology standards, many of which date to the late 1990s, need to be “revised, updated, strengthen and modernized,” Hogan said.
He thanked the board for its willingness to open up the district’s records and facilities to state scrutiny, noting tactics defense attorneys have used in the past to justify their position.
“It’s a good thing districts like Crane step forward and help us out with these things,” Hogan continued, “because this isn’t one of those kinds of lawsuits where you stick your name on it and then you walk away and someone tells you whether you won or lost on it.”
The district will need to open its facilities to state inspectors, make records available and that sort of thing, Hogan said. “It takes effort, it takes time, it takes resources.”
Hogan praised Crane’s strong financial and management reputation.
“We don’t just pick districts at random,” he said. “Crane has been so well-managed, so well-operated, I know you’ve got the records, you’ve got the evidence, and it makes it so much easier to do these cases.”
Superintendent Bob Klee, who was attending one of his last board meetings, thanked Hogan for his work for the district throughout the years.
Klee also noted that he was going to miss recognizing students, of whom there were quite a few Tuesday evening. The district honored student winners from the regional and state science fairs, Gowan Science Academy’s Odyssey of the Mind team, which is attending the world competition at the end of May, and winners of the Elks Club essay contest.
The board also held a lengthy discussion on the political agenda for the upcoming Arizona School Boards Association fall assembly, and the harm the expansion of Empowerment Savings Accounts will do to public schools.
“We are not opposed to private schools, but I don’t appreciate that you are taking funds from public schools, pooling our money” and redistributing it, said board member Sarah Claridge.
In other business, the board approved new job titles for Dale Ponder and Michael Clark to chief of finance and operations and director of school nutrition, respectively; approved Michael Hoffman as the new assistant superintendent; set dates and times for upcoming work sessions and special meetings; gave a first reading to several policies; and accepted donations from the GSA PTO and the School Nutrition Department in the amount of $13,238.43.
The board’s next session will be a work session at 4 p.m. May 23 to work on the district’s vacation and sick leave policy.